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NEW DELHI: Covid-19 has prompted some of the country’s top packaged goods manufacturers to bring out more hygiene and germ-protection soaps in a highly competitive category as the fear of getting infected pushes households to use cleaning products. Analysts said in the short-term, antiseptic, germ-kill and preventive soaps could see higher growth rates, compared to beauty soaps, driven by increased frequency of usage and awareness among consumers.

Emami Ltd, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd, Dabur India and ITC Ltd have launched new ranges of antiseptic or germ-kill soaps under existing brands in the $3.1 billion bar soap market. While Dabur entered the germ protection category with a soap brand called Sanitize, Emami marked its re-entry in the category with two variants of Boroplus soap and launched sanitizers under the same brand in the month of June.

Wipro's Santoor, too, has switched its communication to promote its hygiene benefits. “In the medium term, there could be a shift from the beauty part of the body wash, soaps and liquids to ‘protection’," Edelweiss Securities’ Abneesh Roy said. “Protection and naturals will gain market share—that is definite," he added.

GCPL that owns Cinthol and Godrej No. 1. brands of bathing soaps expects the category to grow well due to increased usage and consumption. Since March, the company has amped up its portfolio of home and personal hygiene products, including a soap, under its Protekt brand. “There could be higher growth in the health segment but it may not happen at the cost of other segments as overall there could be a consumption increase," Sunil Kataria, CEO, India & SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Limited said.

Besides health, soaps and washing products with natural ingredients such as neem and aloe vera are also likely to win favour among shoppers. Kataria said the company will continue to strengthen the communication around the Godrej No. 1. soap that has positioned itself to offer benefits of natural ingredients over the last five years. “We could launch some new variants," he added.

Earlier this month, ITC Ltd., that owns the beauty soap brand Vivel, launched a new soap under Savlon Hexa, extending its Savlon germ protection brand further. Building on the existing franchise will help brands win share at a time when consumers are actively seeking hygiene products, said a top executive at ITC Ltd., whose brands compete with Reckitt Benckiser’s Dettol, and Hindustan Unilever Ltd's., Lux and Lifebuoy. “Vivel has a bunch of variants like aloe vera and neem. It is something which we activate more during this time because that’s what people would want to buy," Sameer Satpathy, chief executive, personal care products business, ITC Ltd., told Mint in an earlier interview.

Sales growth of the soaps bar category had slowed down in 2019 to 4.6% from 6.5% growth clocked a year ago. This was in line with the general slowdown experienced by the fast moving consumer goods market in the country.

Last year, India’s largest packaged goods company, Hindustan Unilever Ltd., took price cuts in its soaps portfolio—Dove, Lux, Lifebuoy—in line with lower input costs. However, as households spend more on hygiene and cleaning products, soaps and hand washes could see an uptick.

New entrants will basically chip off market share from existing brands.

“So it is already close to 100% in terms of a category penetration, which means every household does buy a soap. So, I think new launches have to come at the expense of one another -- with one gaining at the cost of somebody else," said K Ramakrishnan, Managing Director of the Worldpanel division at research firm Kantar.

Ramakrishnan said going forward the communication around soaps will quickly move from displaying beauty-related benefits to highlighting immunity and protection. "Even beauty might come with immunity boosters," he said. Edelweiss’s Roy, meanwhile, said market share could come at the expense of small, regional players as large companies add more variants in the market.

Anil Chugh, president, India Consumer Care Business, Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting—that sells the Santoor soap brand—said with the World Health Organization (WHO) stating that soaps are supposed to kill viruses, the company needed to create awareness among consumers given the current environment.

“Santoor soap has taken this activity up in its communications. In general, customers inclination to using hygiene related products has increased due to the pandemic and the same is true for soaps as well. This trend will continue as long as the covid fear is top of mind among public," Chugh said.

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